Skip to main content

Almost Catholic: An Appreciation of the History, Practice, and Mystery of Ancient Faith

Almost Catholic: An Appreciation of the History, Practice, and Mystery of Ancient Faith

Jon Sweeney

ISBN: 978-0-470-24099-1

May 2008, Jossey-Bass

240 pages



Jon Sweeney, a self-described “evolved Protestant” and noted religious writer, has long been fascinated by the Catholic Church. However, it wasn’t until he was a young missionary in the Philippines that he truly began to understand the Church’s traditions, mysteries, and religious beliefs and its hold on those who follow the tradition. As he explains, Catholic spirituality is all about responding to the fundamental mystery of Jesus, the incarnation, and what it all meant in the beginning as well as what it means today.

In Almost Catholic, Sweeney offers an appreciation of Catholicism, weaving in the story of his own explorations with those of others who have also been attracted to this tradition. He finds himself drawn to the Church’s ancient and medieval traditions out of a desire to connect with the deepest and widest paths on the way. Two millennia of saints and practices and teachings and mystery form a connection for him to the very beginnings of Christianity.

Introduction vii

SECTION ONE The Language and the Spirit 1

Forget What You Thought You Knew 3

“Catholic” 11

Forget About Conversion 16

Doubters and Believers, Atheists and Agnostics 22

Eleven Steps to Becoming a Truly Catholic Christian 26

SECTION TWO The Catholic Imagination 29

God Is Here 31

Sacred Spaces and Places 36

Privy to a Revealed Secret 42

But It’s Too Easy 48

Taking Vows 54

Becoming a Saint 62

SECTION THREE Faith with Flesh 69

He Loved His Own Flesh 71

The Sensuousness of Jesus 77

The Crucifix 81

Stations of the Cross 88

Bones and Bodies 93

Something Good About Hell 101

SECTION FOUR Much More Than Kitsch and Jesus Junk 109

Rosary Beads 111

Little Books 116

Images That Speak 122

Novenas for Heathens and Outcasts 128

Going to Confession 135

The Sacred Heart of Jesus 140

SECTION FIVE My Own Cloud of Witnesses 147

Thomas Merton 149

Saint Francis of Assisi 153

Every Idealist Who Has Ever Tried 156

G. K. Chesterton 160

Flannery O’Connor 165

The Catechism as a Mystical Novel 172

SECTION SIX Together with Others 179

Take Me to the River 181

Sacraments and Sacramentals 187

Contemplative Living 192

Eating and Kissing 197

Millions of Blessings 203

Excommunication 207

Appendix Defining a Few Terms 213

Notes 217

Suggestions for Further Reading 225

Acknowledgments 227

The Author 229

Rosaries, rituals, crucifixes and canonized saints: Sweeney, an Episcopalian, enthusiastically embraces these trappings of the Catholic faith, even as many Protestants find them unbiblical and some Catholics have abandoned them. In his latest book, Sweeney talks about his chosen state of being “almost Catholic,” explaining how Catholicism's practices and outlook help connect him to the divine and expand his worldview. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, Sweeney tells how he grew up believing “Catholics were going to hell unless they found our brand of true salvation.” Later, as a church planter in the Philippines, his thinking started to shift when he stepped inside a Catholic church for the first time. Overwhelmed by the sensory experience, he came to love Catholicism as an approach to faith that “lands in the heart and the body as well as in the head.” He has stopped short of converting, however, saying that those who remain outside the institution can still access Catholic life. Although Sweeney's love of Catholic practice makes for interesting reading, he saves his best for describing the differences between Catholic and Protestant thought, providing a depth that goes beyond fascination with externals. (Feb.) (Publishers Weekly, December 3, 2007)